The question of the day is surely not “what have we done?” but rather, “what have we learned?” Of course, that is always our first question. We are students, after all. It is certainly an intrinsic aspect of my identity, and I compulsively took notes during all official proceedings. Next to me, there is a small notebook filled with line upon line of particularly salient quotes or ideas that I must now decipher and actually process, I must determine what is ultimately most important to pass on to those who eagerly await analysis of what I have been doing. And yet, there is a potent and underlying current of apprehension. How will I discern the the greatest meaning from these few collected words?
It was a glorious morning to stand in the Rose Garden of the United Nations, too bright to look directly at the shining surface of the water’s edge or towering skyline beyond it. All of the delegates held our flags tightly enough to keep them from flapping into each others faces, and I could hear nervous chatter in various languages from all sides. The bell was rung and silence was held. I held mine for those who might never experience such meditative moments, to stand in quiet solidarity with global brethren secure in this beautified fortress of political discourse. Like a sigh, the Doves of Peace were released and soared skyward, a cascade of white, a prayer for freedom and the clean expanse of future glories.
It was quieter and warmer in Conference Room 3, where the delegates scrambled to find seats, more subdued with awe and intimidation of official surroundings. Before each of us was a small booklet about Le Petit Prince: une action de diplomatie culturelle, the flag of a nation accompanied by a message of peace and #peaceday gleaming blue on every monitor, the significance of which would all be explained later. For me, though, these were ultimately set pieces and it was the people, the speakers themselves, that held my rapt attention. I am always at school, and these were my professors, I was ready for the lecture to begin. Futile a mission as I knew it might be, I opened my notebook in the hope I could somehow disseminate the vastness of the concepts to come into words. I felt an almost panicked desire to discover some method of retention, imprint every small detail upon my memory. There was the distinct sensation of visceral energy within each individual moment, as though the intensity of the discussions was able to permeate the air itself, with each breath came another rush of penetrating emotion and profundity. I stood blindly upon the edge of a cliff, still buffeted by the winds of the East River, that small notebook my only tether.
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon addressed us in a cordial manner, before moving into his own pleas for utilizing our youthful energies. His conclusion, however, impressed upon us the concept of peace in the context of our relationship to the universe as a whole: “We are a small planet. One of many stars in a vast sky. We need to be humble.”
We need to be humble.
It is something we have always known, that the greatest leaders derive power of influence from their humble nature. To remain humble as a species and as individuals is of singular importance if we are to develop a mutually beneficial relationship between the environment, nations, animals, peoples of the world. There needs to be an intrinsic understanding of the lack of an inherent hierarchy, superiority is a man-made concept and as such, requires the same efforts to achieve its necessary deconstruction.
Our Pagan tradition is one of personal spiritual and oral communication, and has always been uniquely captured by music. In fact, I believe this to be a universal truth, music has singular potential for change among all others. The unusual property of music lies in its ability to invite the listener to create a dialogue within themselves, creates an instantaneous universe in which you exist, the protagonist of an ancient narrative. Introspection will always transcend speechmaking in terms of encouraging mass shift of consciousness. As Yo-yo Ma took bow to string, we experienced the vibrations of idealism and hope as you would waves upon the shore, alternately soaring and diving with the energy of his intentions. Midori Goto followed with her piercingly emotional violin, and her own particular call to action: use what you are given, what you have. Our differences mean we have different things we can contribute toward this common goal. Use your own talents, as there does not exist a predetermined path toward activism and justice. We all hold within us the ability to enrich the world from wherever we are in our lives. Her music became charged with these words. It was a song of personal empowerment. It was a song of utilizing fortune and loss alike, allowing fate itself to guide us all toward our own place within this process, a piece of the puzzle, one gear among many.
Still, still, I couldn’t help thinking: But what of the music of conflict?
What of the sounds of war that become background to the daily life of youth? Our colleagues in the DRC never neglected to hold us accountable, to remind us that even as we spoke about what we have done and what we more we could do, there was suffering. Through video conference they asked the United Nations why this continued to be so, and I felt deep admiration for their powerful dedication, their steely resolve to make all of us who were so safe and comfortable in our padded chairs of Room 3 understand that our experience was special. We were fortunate for any respite from disorder and hurt, and for some, the noise of suffering rings perpetually in their ears.
Jane Goodall had this to say: “There is a quote: we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. What is evident to me is that it has been stolen. We have stolen this earth from you.” She reminded us of the impossibility of overemphasizing the importance of respect in our interactions with one another. Without respect, peace will never come. A student presenter added, “Work with us, not for us.”
Pagans, look to our moon. Human footprints rest there today, yet we continue to destroy our own planet, our home, and our family. It is that which cannot protect itself, those who cannot speak for themselves in their own defense or who are not included in these conversations are those we need to consider first, think of first in our journey towards sustainable harmony. Our animals, our environment, our peoples with stolen voices, they are of the absolute and utmost importance.
Later, at a reception held in The Nicholas Roerich Museum, we would gaze upon The Mother of the Universe and hear how she drew her veil across her eyes as the suffering of the earth became to painful for her to bear. One day she will again pull it back, when peace reigns supreme. Chief Arvol Lookinghorse stood beneath her and extended his blessings to us, those who work to preserve what remains and work with nature to regain what has now been lost. The Black Mountains, he said, are shaped like a heart. He feels that heartbeat and the pulsating blood and so must we. In our recognition and reverence of Earth, we must experience both its pain and its power. Its devastation and its ability to restore. Coral reefs that are bleached bone-white will one day become the sand, the ground on which new worlds will grow, and this is hope without complacency.
I look now at my notebook and ponder without respite what it is that I have learned. When I was flying into the city, I happened to glance down and see a miniature Lady Liberty, aglow in the distant waters below. It surprised me and I did not initially know what it was that I was looking at, only that the sight was familiar and of certain significance. After a moment, I laughed, recognizing the minuscule landmark for what it was. After traveling for an entire day, contemplating what it was that I may be returning with when I next entered an airplane, realization finally dawned. I may not know what it is that I have gained or grasp the entirety of my experience as it happens, but I will have obtained it nonetheless. It will only be later that I will see how my perspective has been shifted, and the effects of such internal change. If I continue to revisit these memories, these ideas, my notebook, consider what peace means to me today, I will do what is right and what needs to be done. This, I am certain of.
So I invite you to consider what peace means for you, on this day and every day after. And share it with others, even with me. We will feel the Earth together. We will know things will improve under our hands.